Christmas came early to the Hughes household this year in the form of a Sunday lunch. Mark and I played host to a small family gathering where we ended up drinking wines that we might not otherwise have opened, just for the sake of keeping my mum and my sister happy. Neither of them are big drinkers, but they have diametrically opposite tastes in wine (one prefers robust, tannic wines, the other winces at the merest hint of tannin and favours slightly jammy fruit flavours). I ended up opening far more bottles than I needed to, just to make sure that everyone got at least a glass of something that they might enjoy drinking. Did either of them notice? Probably not, but they both enjoyed their Christmas lunch. Either way, it got me thinking about the different way wine geeks and non-geeks approach the idea of drinking wine in company. I have to admit that, much as I like a good geek gathering, there are times when our obsession with wine can end up marring the occasion for those not equally fascinated by the topic. Given that most of us will be entertaining friends and family over the course of the next few days, I’ve come up with five simple rules that should help the geeks keep the non-geeks happy.
I’ve just come back from a long trip to Australia; hence the lack of posts on this site in recent weeks. While I was away, one issue kept on cropping up. Can wine quality be assessed objectively? This isn’t the vinous equivalent of asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It has a bearing on whether – and to what extent – you should be influenced by the opinions of the various critics and merchants when you buy wines.
I spent the last week of my visit touring Australia’s wine-producing regions with a coachload of fellow MWs. In order to pass our tasting exams, we were all required to put aside personal preferences and come to an objective (or near as dammit) assessment of the quality of wines presented to us blind. So, in theory, when it came to rating the wines we were tasting, we should have all come to more or less similar conclusions.
It’s election day here in the UK, and while I can hardly describe my feelings about voting in this election as being those of unfettered enthusiasm, I’m very aware that helping to choose my government is not only my civic responsibility, it’s also a hard-won privilege, one that many women around the world still don’t enjoy.
In all honesty, I’m far keener to vote for my favourite wine of recent months. But what wine should I choose? In terms of sheer rational analysis, I should probably pick the wine that I awarded 19 points out of 20 while judging in the recent International Wine Challenge. (I can’t tell you what it is as the organisers of the competition would have to shoot me – results are embargoed until later this month.) Truth be told, however, the bottle I most enjoyed was the Champagne I shared a few weeks ago with a friend who was celebrating her graduation as a Master of Wine earlier. There were a few of us around the table in a local restaurant (the amazing Brunswick House, of which more next week), the mood was joyous and we shared some delicious food.
Whether you’re communicating about wine in a newspaper or a magazine (with a few honourable exceptions), or even if you’re recommending wines on a TV show, we wine writers come under an awful lot of pressure to recommend wines that are a) sold in supermarkets and b) cost under a tenner.
While I’m happy to recommend the occasional supermarket wine, and am delighted if I can find a great-value bottle of wine, I am never going to recommend wines just because they’re widely available or cheap.
I’ve long been an admirer of Flint Wines: their portfolio is packed with characterful, food-friendly wines and their prices (given that they trade in wines from some of the most prestigious regions in the world) aren’t too scary. But Flint has been a bit of a wine trade secret for its entire existence, largely because they mainly sell to restaurants.
Late last year, though, they announced that they were opening up a retail arm, the Stannary Street Wine Company. I was invited along to their new offices, which are splendidly equipped with a generously proportioned marble spittoon (left) to try some of the wines in their portfolio. Like its sister company, Flint, Stannary Street is particularly strong on Burgundy, but there are also some terrific wines from the USA and elsewhere in their range.